South Tahoe High’s Westlake questions legality of new policy for rehiring coaches
As the Lake Tahoe Unified School District moves forward in modifying its policy for rehiring South Tahoe High varsity coaches, one longtime Vikings’ mentor questions the legality of the change.
Dominique Westlake, a 16-year Vikings’ boys’ cross country coach, sent a letter to the board last month after learning that coaches at the school would be required to re-interview for their positions every two years.
“I’m not drawing personal judgment on the board, but I would think they’d want to show support for their teachers and coaches. A policy is in place to protect everyone involved,” said Westlake, who was upset that the district didn’t meet with coaches or notify them before putting the new policy in place. “If a coach is being negligent, that needs to be rectified. But there is an evaluation process in place that addresses that.”
Westlake informed the board in his letter that the district might be violating Schedule E in the employee contract. His understanding is that the policy for rehiring of coaches couldn’t change without a vote by the teachers’ union.
Jim Watson, the district’s human resources officer, was uncertain about the validity of Westlake’s claim.
“I hesitate to speak to that,” he said. “Coaches are hired on an annual basis, and they are governed for their extra pay through Schedule E.”
Coaches are not the equivalent of teachers in the district contract, according to school board member Sue Novasel.
“I haven’t heard anything from the union about that,” she said. “I don’t know where that came from because a coach is not a teacher position. It’s just a stipend and is separate from the teacher’s contract. It’s not a unionized position.”
In the past, coaches were reviewed by the school’s athletic director and administration on a yearly basis. But the school board decided to re-examine the rehiring of coaches after a group of parents filed complaints against STHS softball coach Joann Allister.
“In my mind, it was too loose of a system,” Novasel said. “There should be a review process. It shouldn’t happen automatically. There should be accountability for coaches.
“This is a good thing for coaches. They shouldn’t be worried about it. A good coach understands that they need to maintain a rapport with parents and the administration.”
Novasel said that in Allister’s case, the board was reacting to more than parent complaints. The board was ensuring rights and regulations were being met, she said.
A committee interviewed Allister and one other candidate before deciding Feb. 11 to rehire one of STHS’s handful of on-campus coaches.
Westlake stated in his letter that he thought an evaluation process for coaches was already in place.
“Head coaches were evaluated at the end of each season and retained or released from their coaching position based upon the evaluation of the high school athletic director and the administrator overseeing athletics. When did this procedure change and for what reason?” Westlake wrote in his letter.
If varsity coaches are required to reinterview for their positions, Westlake is concerned about the overall quality of candidates since the school has very few on-campus coaches.
“Let’s say that no one applies for the job. Do I automatically get my position back, or do I have to resign, then reapply for the same position?” Westlake wrote. “Do you really think we will get qualified people to coach our sports? Or will we simply have parents step up to coach the sport so their child can participate that season, or be ‘protected’ for playing time?”
Novasel doesn’t expect the new policy to be fully enacted for several years.
Watson said that once the board is finished addressing budget and staffing issues this month, it will readdress the new coaching policy.
“It is a topic that the board wants to bring back and have conversation about sometime in the near future,” Watson said. “At the last board meeting, they voiced an interest in meeting with some of the coaches and (STHS athletic director) Don Borges and having a deeper conversation about the changes in policy.”